Joe Mauer is still very much capable of squaring up a ball and hitting it sharply. Just ask David Price's protective cup, which Mauer blasted on the fly for an infield single Tuesday.
As a matter of fact, 28.3 percent of all balls he's put into play this season have been line drives -- a small sample size, but the highest number of any season in his career. The best full season was 2013, when his line drive rate was 27.7 percent.
Last year and this year, however, also have a more disturbing trend in common: a rapidly increasing strikeout total for a player who used to be one of the tougher guys in MLB to whiff.
Mauer had two more strikeouts last night, giving him 24 in just 19 games. That's obviously more than one per game for a guy whose career average is more like a strikeout every other game.
And the strikeouts have been coming in bunches. Mauer has 12 career games with three or more strikeouts (11 with three, one with four). Half of them have come in either 2013 or 2014. He has struck out either two or three times in nine of his 19 games this season.
As pointed out by Parker Hageman, Mauer is struggling particularly this season against non-fastballs, with just a .161 average against off-speed stuff before last night's game. He also hasn't fared well with two strikes, something he used to be well above-average at doing.
The big question is: should we worry? Part of us wants to say no because this is a 19-game sample size for a player with a much longer track record of success. He was striking out at a one per game rate for about the first third of last season before he started putting more balls in play, so there should be some adjustment coming.
Part of us, though, is concerned. When he was fanning last year, he was still maintaining a high average and hitting for power; through 49 games in 2013, he had 49 Ks but a .492 slugging percentage and .332 batting average. This year, he has just three extra base hits in 19 games. He just turned 31, and we can't forget that a concussion ended his 2013 season.
In other words, it's not time to pull the alarm yet ... but if we check back at, say, the 50-game mark and Mauer is still trending downward, you have our permission to be very concerned.